Working Geek: How Amplero’s Olly Downs is ‘learning to be a good CEO’
Amplero CEO Olly Downs. (Amplero Photo)

In early 2016, Globys spun out its A.I. marketing software business Amplero. The plan was to hire a new CEO to bring the product to market, but things started accelerating faster than expected at the young startup.

Amplero’s customer base and team starting growing quickly and the startuplanded $8 million in series A funding from some heavyweight investors.

Instead of bringing on someone new, the board decided Olly Downs, the exec who led the company through its transition, was the right person for the job.

“So far it has been both a lot of fun, a huge amount of work, and one of the greatest learning opportunities of my life,” said Downs.

Downs spends most of his time with Amplero’s global customer base. He also manages hiring and drives the company’s big-picture direction.

“Of all of those things, I’ve found that hiring the right team around you and empowering them is the most important of all, as it fills out your own gaps and allows you to focus on where you personally can make the biggest contributions to advancing the business,” he said.

We caught up with Downs for this installment of Working Geek, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for his answers to our questionnaire.

Current Location:“Amplero is based in the Seattle Tower building in downtown Seattle, but right now, I’m answering this from home with my kids watching 2Fast2Furious in the background and our three-legged Labrador, Rebel, pestering me to play ball.”

Computer types:“It’s always a topic of debate here. I have had great success in the past using Macs which are great for LAMP stack development― but I currently have two PCs in my office.”

Mobile devices:“iPhone 6S and Tag Heuer Connected watch. Somehow, I got out of the buying cycle on my phones so I am slightly behind. I need one of the customers in our telecom vertical to resolve that issue for me. I love my Tag Connected watch, in my opinion, the Apple Watch lacks style by comparison.”

Favorite apps, cloud services, and software tools:“In the software world ― where python has become the lingua franca for data science and machine learning ― there are great toolkits for machine learning and the high-performance linear algebra and statistics that is needed to underpin new algorithm development.

At the same time the iPython Notebook (now called Jupyter), allows for the sort of interactive data and algorithm output visualization that you need to develop new approaches. Python APIs are now prominent parts of key Big Data platforms like Spark, and productizing algorithms and data processing code in Python has never been easier or more performance. I know everyone is going to say ‘Scala,’ but I’m a machine learning guy, not a software engineer!”

Describe your workspace. Why does it work for you?“Well, we have had some challenges with workspace over the past few months. Real talk. Our permanent space in Seattle Tower was not ready for us to move in as expected. At the same time, Amplero has grown by over 60 percent!

So, our executive team have all sat in a chairs-colliding, back-to-back small office space, and the team has been packed in across two disparate floors. We’re about to move into our permanent location and we have been designing a fantastic workspace for everyone across an entire floor in the Seattle Tower.


Working Geek: How Amplero’s Olly Downs is ‘learning to be a good CEO’

That said, I have appreciated much about our temporary arrangements. The density of people has kept the energy level high, and the level of bonding across our executive team has been great.”

Your best advice for managing everyday work and life?“I focus on results and transparency over appearance and image. In some of the most challenging situations in my career, I’ve found that doing exceptional work and getting great results ultimately overcomes politics and positioning every time.

I let things drop that aren’t on my list of top priorities and let others bubble them back to the top if they need to be, which at times I’m sure can be infuriating for others, but it keeps me sane. I trust and empower my team with the things they are responsible for, but I’m always ready to help when they need me to.

I weed-whack my calendar every week and drop meetings that aren’t truly important to what I need to achieve that week.”

Your preferred social network? How do you use it for business/work?“LinkedIn without a doubt! It’s a key focus for hiring, sales and business development, and getting PR to the right audience.”

Current number of unanswered emails in your inbox?“There is a very large number of items I receive that need no action at all, and clearing that clutter is a perpetual problem for me, so there are hundreds of those unread at any given time pending my weekly clearout. I flag items that are important, but cannot be answered right away, for future attention, and they stay in my inbox there are 24 of these right now.”

Number of appointments/meetings on your calendar this week?“52 meetings, including an afternoon ski at Summit with my partner Kirsten!”

How do you run meetings?“I would love to tell you every meeting is tightly orchestrated and well-organized, but anyone who knows me would say it’s a lie. I tend to let meetings internally take a smooth course spanning the intended topics rather than work through them in some specific order.

Externally, I like to hear other parties out and then adapt what I say to the needs/interests of the audience ― or apply corrective action if needed. I’m working to make sure I confirm that everyone has the same takeaways from each meeting as I do.”

Everyday work uniform?“PNW tech uniform: jeans and a button-down shirt.”

How do you make time for family?“I try to have everything in my calendar, and I plan ahead for and then vigorously defend family time and relationship time in there. All parents know those two things are not the same and are equally as important.”

Best stress reliever? How do you unplug?“I have two great stress-relievers. Every day, it’s my time with my partner, Kirsten, when everything is done for the day, and we catch up on how our days have been and the week is going.

To really blow the steam off, I love cars, and Porsches in particular. I participate in track days with the Porsche Club at Pacific Raceways in Kent and The Ridge Motorsports Park in Shelton.”

What are you listening to?“Simple Minds and The Crystal Method are always a part of my day!”

Daily reads? Favorite sites and newsletters?“BBC News, always, Wall Street Journal, TechCrunch and GeekWire, of course!”

Book on your nightstand (or e-reader)?“Simplexity, by Jeffrey Kluger.”

Night owl or early riser? What are your sleep patterns?“Sleep is minimal ― I stay up too late, and get up far too early. I’m an early riser by design ― 4:45 a.m. ―it gives me time to have a continuous chunk of time to work without interruptions, but, if there is no alarm clock set, I can easily sleep in until lunchtime.”

Where do you get your best ideas?“Always while my focus is on ‘something else.'”

Whose work style would you want to learn more about or emulate?“I want to learn from everyone who seems more productive than me, particularly those who live a well-balanced life. I want to refine how I filter what gets my attention and doesn’t and truly maximize the value from where I spend my time. I think that is one of the challenges of learning to be a good CEO.”

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